Think you've kissed the Blarney Stone? Then think again...

Well, Sir Winston Churchill kissed the Blarney Stone, and it worked for him, didn't it? He was, after all, one of the world's greatest orators. It shows, doesn't it, that there's substance to the legend that it bestows eloquence?

Except that, if a new book on Cork's Blarney Castle is correct, Sir Winston may have kissed the wrong stone and must therefore owe his rhetorical skills to other factors.

Right castle, wrong stone, is the verdict of an archaeologist and architectural historian, Mark Samuel, who has researched the castle and the stone which has for centuries been said to bestow those whose lips touch it with the power to persuade, flatter, coax and soft-soap.

He believes the stone with the allegedly magical powers was quietly redesignated some time in the 19th century. The reason was health and safety, since the people who then owned the castle wanted to attract more tourists but also wanted to make sure none of them plummeted from the high-placed, dangerous rock to their deaths.

Today, hundreds of thousands are making the trek each year, coming into contact with the stone in complete safety. But, if Mr Samuel is right, they have all been under a giant delusion, puckering up at the wrong rock.

"It was all part of the phenomenon of reinventing the castle that happened in the past 200 years as a romantic spot," according to Mr Samuel. "There are quite good grounds now for saying that there is a Blarney Stone in the castle somewhere, but not the one that people are kissing. That has only been identified as the Blarney Stone since about 1870."

The suspicion is that visitors were redirected at that time to a different stone which was more accessible and less hazardous to reach. Today, a bit of leaning is involved but no danger.

This theory is dismissed by the castle's owner, Charles Colthurst, who – perhaps unsurprisingly – describes it as "a load of Blarney". He added: "I would like to assure the millions of people who have kissed the stone in the past that this is the exact location and has been since as far back as all historical records show. The only stone that was ever kissed in Blarney is the stone they kiss today."

Queen Elizabeth I gave the word its pejorative sense, so they say, when she became exasperated with a local chieftain who came up with ever more ingenious excuses for not fulfilling a pledge to hand the castle over to her.

"Odds bodkins!" she is said to have exclaimed. "Blarney, Blarney, I will hear no more of this Blarney!" This sense of the word is also evident in an 18th-century jibe that kissing the stone imparted "the privilege of telling lies for seven years".

Today, the word is in widespread use, most obviously as the title of Irish pubs: there are Blarney Stone bars from Seattle to Amsterdam, from Scunthorpe to Melbourne and from Finsbury Park to Toledo, Ohio.

The questioning of the stone's authenticity is unlikely to dim its popularity for, in addition to its gift of the gab, it has many more myths to offer. It is Jacob's Pillow, some say, brought to Ireland by Jeremiah. It is associated with a saint, Columba, they say, and with Robert the Bruce – in fact it may even be a part of the Stone of Scone. It has also been connected to the Crusades; and, finally, it may be the stone that Moses struck to bring forth water. It seems highly likely that whoever gathered all these myths must themselves have come into close contact with the Blarney Stone.

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<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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